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Neural correlates of chocolate brand preference: A functional MRI study.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Preferences can be developed for, or against, specific brands and services. Using two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments, this study investigated two dissociable aspects of reward processing, craving and liking, in chocolate lovers. The goal was to further delineate the neural basis supporting branding effects using familiar chocolate (FC) and unfamiliar chocolate (UC) brand images.

METHODS: In the first experiment, subjects rated their subjective craving and liking on a scale of 1-5 (weak-strong) for each FC and UC image. In the second experiment, they performed a choice task between FC and UC images.

RESULTS: Both the craving and liking ratings were significantly greater for FC and were differentially correlated with choice behavior. Craving ratings predicted greater preference for UC, and liking ratings predicted greater preference for FC. A contrast of neural activity for UC versus FC choice trials revealed significantly greater activation for UC choices in the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus and right caudate head. Response times for the FC images were faster than UC images; fMRI activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was significantly correlated with response times during FC trials, but not UC trials. These correlations were significantly different from each other at the group level.

CONCLUSIONS: The choices for branded chocolate products are driven by higher subjective reward ratings and lower neural processing demands.

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